"Railroading" Advice


Advice

Horizon Hunters

Railroading is a dirty word I know, but my players always seem to head directly to the end point of the adventure (the room the boss, clue, goal, etc) is in without exploring all the other cool stuff that is prepared for them.

They don't even realise they're doing it, just when they have multiple paths they always seem to choose that one.

Any advice on gently guiding them away from the end point for a little bit without seeming a dick about it?


If there is the possibility to go directly, then there's nothing wrong with doing that.

The question is why is your adventure structured in a way that there are clues/doors directly to the end-boss in parts where they should not yet be?

There are some ways to change that. Create chains of clues so that your players have to collect some first. Have the boss not be in their room.

Also, if your players never explore your world, maybe there is missong something exciting for then to explore. Not that you didn't place stuff but that for them neutralizing the big bad is more interessting.

Tldr: Put some mandatory sub-goals there and investigate if the players are missing motivation to explore.


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The boss room has a big key that is oddly shaped like a skull and can only be found in a random other room of the dungeon ;)

Alternatevely a riddle door and clues are hidden in the dungeon

Add sidequests for what else can be in the dungeon (damsels in distress, family heirlooms, rare alchemical ingredients or plants)

Design a dungeon where the bbeg is not the main target but instead one of the things mentioned above


Could you give a short example?

My general advice is to make sure that their short term and long term goals don't align so that immediate goals lead them away from long term goals while giving them more ability to tackle their long term goals.

The standard is giving them a quest to explore a region and report back, and while exploring the region they discover a larger threat. While dealing with the larger threat, they uncover evidence that whoever sent them on this mission did so to get rid of them. You can nest that type of plot more or less indefinitely, and occasionally drop clues for future events as call backs or to let the characters jump the queue into an event beyond them.

Draw up your time line of events. Write a few ideas of how each can be mitigated or avoided. Create the story for each event out of clues for the next events with more focusing on the immediate one, but enough clues for subsequent ones that they aren't blindsided. Feel free to include clues for events already passed if you feel like your players missed the contextual importance of the event.

easy peasy...

oh right, and make sure your clues are more from environment than the words of NPCs.

Horizon Hunters

Well, I cant get too specific as my current issue is based on an Adventure Path. ;)

I guess I could let them rush through and add some extra stuff on later so that they are correctly leveled.


Just create a dungeon exactly like you normally would, except the boss chamber is empty. The boss is upstairs, sleeping in their quarters.


DomHeroEllis wrote:

Railroading is a dirty word I know, but my players always seem to head directly to the end point of the adventure (the room the boss, clue, goal, etc) is in without exploring all the other cool stuff that is prepared for them.

They don't even realise they're doing it, just when they have multiple paths they always seem to choose that one.

Any advice on gently guiding them away from the end point for a little bit without seeming a dick about it?

My players' main strategy in getting through a module is to identify the unnecessary fights and avoid those fights. Thus, they conserve their resources for the boss battle. I talked to two of my players and they reminded me that a strict deadline, such as an occult ritual at the next full moon, makes their focus even more narrow.

They said that a side path has to rely on their character's own motivation. If it isn't part of the quest's goal, then it has to still be set up as a goal the party wants nevertheless.

For example, the initial motivation in the 4th module, Valley of the Brain Collectors, in the Iron Gods adventure path is to find Casandalee's lost notes, necessary for a later part of the adventure path. The party was supposed to investigate dozens of caves and battle monsters in those caves that have nothing to do with the notes until they found the right cave.

Instead, they focused on talking to other people in the valley, including aliens, madmen, and rivals, getting as much information as possible in hopes of narrowing down the search. They talked to a rival, Hyrsek Caio, who was tracking a renegade. That seemed like a good lead, because maybe the renegade was after Casandalee's notes, so they teamed up with Hyrsek, but it was a false lead. They also learned that one cave contained the Dominion Hive, some major-league conquerors that their characters would want to stop, despite the hive having nothing to do Casandalee's notes. The party was the kind of people that stopped threats to their hometown Torch. By luck, the Dominion Hive boss was the final boss of that module and Casandalee's notes were in his treasure.

Due to their focus and that the second side path happened to secretly be the main path, they had missed half the caves in the valley and would have finished one level short. I let the final boss escape via Dimension Door rather than fight to the death, so that I could lead them on a chase for more XP. This isn't a perfect example.

Sometimes the party created their own side path. In the 2nd module, Lords of Rust, they moved incognito into Scrapwall before confronting the Lords of Rust on their main quest. They wanted information before the confrontation. They became invested in the concerns of their neighbors and started running missions for them out of the generosity of their hearts.

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

The last door is always the right one.


The Raven Black wrote:
The last door is always the right one.

Schrodinger's Door. :)

It doesn't have to be the last one. No need to let them see that pattern. You can still control which door leads where you want.

As long as it's fair. If there are clues and evidence for which way leads where, stick with it. Don't invalidate meaningful player choices, but if they're just picking whether to go left or right first, there's nothing meaningful there.


Just add the right set of doors. :P

Scarab Sages

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
DomHeroEllis wrote:
Well, I cant get too specific as my current issue is based on an Adventure Path. ;)

Get specific. Use spoiler tags or ask in the GM thread for the AP. Specific examples can help diagnose and provide suggestions.


If you're running an AP you can adjust things to make sense for your group. For example, I've run Curse of the Crimson Throne now three times all the way through and each campaign looks quite different from one another just based on the players and the characters. I've added and cut a bunch of things to make the thing click together.

Railroading isn't a bad thing. Railroads get you places. It becomes problematic when the railroad keeps players from having fun. It sounds like you have the opposite problem, where the players are somewhat railroading the campaign themselves and going straight for the jugular.

If your issue is with XP totals, you can either do narrative leveling (which I do; my players just don't care about tracking XP so I don't bother) or come up with some side quests. I've also done the Schrodinger's Door before too, though that can be harder if you're running on something like Roll20 where you have the map pre-generated. Maybe switch where some encounters are located.


When I ran Giantslayer, my party decided at some point that when faced with a choice of which direction they'd go they would always go left. Through some weird hack of map design, that method resulted in them bypassing huge sections of dungeons in a few books, notably book 5. At first it was disheartening, but it ultimately wasn't a big deal because most of the fights they skipped really were just there to exhaust them. I just shifted some threats into other areas to get a few stronger more interesting combats instead of a bunch of weak ones. It also made planning my sessions a lot easier.

The only other thing I could suggest that others haven't yet is to plan for your boss to be in several places and then pick the one that works for you when the time comes. If they look like they're beelining straight for the top of the tower, maybe the top of the tower isn't where the BBEG is hanging out that day.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

My group has actually found out recently that some railroading isn't a bad thing. I introduced them to Society play recently and two of my players who also GM their own game that I play in have been incorporating some of the railroad elements into their own game, via pushing players to critical sections of the story instead of letting them wander around until they eventually reach these story points. Unfortunately, if you are running a module like an AP, I don't think there is much you can do about your players avoiding fights and such if you plan on absolutely sticking with the material as presented. The CRB does say that if your players are smart enough to avoid encounters then they should be rewarded with the XP that the encounter would have provided, they just lose out on any gold or items they may have attained. I think after enough of this, your players will be hurting for upgrades and will have to start exploring your areas a bit more. Maybe even a nudge in that direction could be helpful.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Right, "railroading" isn't always a bad thing.

In our home group we found out that we have a bad habit of doing this when we play in any module or adventure path. So at one point when I stepped up to run an AP I was transparent and I asked, "We have a habit of doing this. Do you want me to gently nudge you away from a dungeon boss encounter, or do you want to be underleveled/underequipped at the encounter?"

They wanted no railroading and thought it was funny to crash face first into the boss. My players can be masochists.

Grand Lodge

Some railroading is good because you don't want players just wandering in circles, but excessive railroading means the parties choices don't matter. Just played a new PFS scenario, Devil in the Crossroads, where it kind of felt like no matter what we did, we were going to have to deal with all the fights/hazards. I get PFS sometimes has to be railroady for time constraints and for certain missions. (Wouldn't make sense not to kill the Runelord in the Waking Rune)

but the game is at it's worst when it feels like clever or diplomatic solutions just don't exist, especially when it feels like it's supposed to be a murder mystery or a political intrigue scenario as opposed to a dungeon delve.

I just can't stand it when an adventure gives players a choice to go left or right and the same monster is behind both doors. If you're going to make players face a certain amount of fights, just be up front about it. Have one hallway with three fights in larger spaces like this ----0----0----0.


Lyoto Machida wrote:

Some railroading is good because you don't want players just wandering in circles, but excessive railroading means the parties choices don't matter. Just played a new PFS scenario, Devil in the Crossroads, where it kind of felt like no matter what we did, we were going to have to deal with all the fights/hazards. I get PFS sometimes has to be railroady for time constraints and for certain missions. (Wouldn't make sense not to kill the Runelord in the Waking Rune)

but the game is at it's worst when it feels like clever or diplomatic solutions just don't exist, especially when it feels like it's supposed to be a murder mystery or a political intrigue scenario as opposed to a dungeon delve.

I just can't stand it when an adventure gives players a choice to go left or right and the same monster is behind both doors. If you're going to make players face a certain amount of fights, just be up front about it. Have one hallway with three fights in larger spaces like this ----0----0----0.

Done well though, this isn't detectable. Unless you read the adventure. Though it can be noticeable if done often enough to become formulaic.

PFS scenarios need a certain level of formula. No real way around it, when you're writing dozens of short discrete adventures. In an AP or even more a homegame, there's enough room to vary things up, but still avoid having to prepare 2 to 3 times as many encounters as you actually want to use.

Or, as I kind of said above, make the choices meaningful rather than arbitrary "left or right" kinds of things. If you give them clues and hints as to what's down each path, then they're choosing for a reason and then it actually matters.


thejeff wrote:
Lyoto Machida wrote:

Some railroading is good because you don't want players just wandering in circles, but excessive railroading means the parties choices don't matter. Just played a new PFS scenario, Devil in the Crossroads, where it kind of felt like no matter what we did, we were going to have to deal with all the fights/hazards. I get PFS sometimes has to be railroady for time constraints and for certain missions. (Wouldn't make sense not to kill the Runelord in the Waking Rune)

but the game is at it's worst when it feels like clever or diplomatic solutions just don't exist, especially when it feels like it's supposed to be a murder mystery or a political intrigue scenario as opposed to a dungeon delve.

I just can't stand it when an adventure gives players a choice to go left or right and the same monster is behind both doors. If you're going to make players face a certain amount of fights, just be up front about it. Have one hallway with three fights in larger spaces like this ----0----0----0.

Done well though, this isn't detectable. Unless you read the adventure. Though it can be noticeable if done often enough to become formulaic.

PFS scenarios need a certain level of formula. No real way around it, when you're writing dozens of short discrete adventures. In an AP or even more a homegame, there's enough room to vary things up, but still avoid having to prepare 2 to 3 times as many encounters as you actually want to use.

Or, as I kind of said above, make the choices meaningful rather than arbitrary "left or right" kinds of things. If you give them clues and hints as to what's down each path, then they're choosing for a reason and then it actually matters.

I would like to discuss on this, because I'm trying to (very slowly) write a campaign, and I'm putting effort on creating fun encounters than I fear will never be played.

If the players skip exploring a place and I put the encounter in the other place they are going to instead, in a way that is "undetectable" like thejeff says, who is getting hurt? The players don't feel that they are being railroaded, and we all experience the nice things that I spent time to craft. Everyone wins, I guess.

Note that ecounter doesn't mean fight. If the group avoid the orc group using stealth or survival, or they deal with them using diplomacy or intimidation or bribes, that's ok - I won't force them into combat.

Grand Lodge

The differences don't necessarily have to be major and you can use a light touch if you don't want to craft extra encounters that might be skipped.

Let's say you have a fantastic encounter you want the players to experience, but you also want to have some choices or skill checks along the way. That's fine, but how about if the party goes left and charges straight ahead then you can have the bad guys on high ground with ranged weapons pelting the party as soon as they enter the hall.

If they go right and use stealth/survival or something like that they can catch the bad guys unaware on level ground, forcing some of them to go melee while the others get into position for the ranged assault. You can use the same monsters and keep the encounter mostly the same IMO, but have some tweaks to terrain, tactics, items etc. depending on when they run into encounter and how they get there.

I will say, even just giving the option for the party to use bluff/stealth/diplomacy etc means you're probably doing just fine. I understand you can't do this on every encounter. If you have a badass boss fight, you shouldn't have it be easily bypassed by a diplomancer. But please try to make so that choices leading up to the boss fight have some impact, even marginally on the fight itself.

In the Devil at the Crossroads scenario, which I thought was a little lame, AFAIK, (correct me if I'm wrong) the fight happens the same way, on the same terrain, with the same villain and the same tactics regardless of what the party during the hours leading up to the fight.

And if you do want a scenario with three straight fights you think are cool that are the same. I honestly can live with that as long the plot is up front about it. I just dislike feeling like there's a bunch of windrow dressing to hides the facts you're fight three battles no matter what you do.

Disclaimer: (I'm not a professional scenario writer or anything like that, I'm just one guy with his own strong preferences to I like certain adventures.)

I hate feeling like choices I make are totally meaningless. That's my main overarching point.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber
Megistone wrote:

I would like to discuss on this, because I'm trying to (very slowly) write a campaign, and I'm putting effort on creating fun encounters than I fear will never be played.

If the players skip exploring a place and I put the encounter in the other place they are going to instead, in a way that...

This is not something you should ever worry about. If your players happen to skip a fun encounter, then you just save it for a later date. Encounters are never lost unless you just decide to never bring them up again.


Eventually players are just going to realize that choosing to play the material I have prepared is more fun than "making me frantically improvise" when they decide to do something else.


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PossibleCabbage wrote:
Eventually players are just going to realize that choosing to play the material I have prepared is more fun than "making me frantically improvise" when they decide to do something else.

Nah. Watching the GM frantically improvise is a huge part of the entertainment.

One of my favorite things is when I do something off the wall and the GM decides he needs to take a quick bathroom break. :)


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thejeff wrote:
PossibleCabbage wrote:
Eventually players are just going to realize that choosing to play the material I have prepared is more fun than "making me frantically improvise" when they decide to do something else.

Nah. Watching the GM frantically improvise is a huge part of the entertainment.

One of my favorite things is when I do something off the wall and the GM decides he needs to take a quick bathroom break. :)

I had to send the group for pizza once.


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This is why it's important to take turns GMing. Everybody gets to know how it feels.


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I highly recommend pretending to be caught off guard from time to time. Impress your players with your improvisation skills by secretly being well prepared and having predicted their next move perfectly.


Megistone wrote:

I would like to discuss on this, because I'm trying to (very slowly) write a campaign, and I'm putting effort on creating fun encounters than I fear will never be played.

If the players skip exploring a place and I put the encounter in the other place they are going to instead, in a way that is "undetectable" like thejeff says, who is getting hurt? The players don't feel that they are being railroaded, and we all experience the nice things that I spent time to craft. Everyone wins, I guess.

Note that ecounter doesn't mean fight. If the group avoid the orc group using stealth or survival, or they deal with them using diplomacy or intimidation or bribes, that's ok - I won't force them into combat.

Some encounters are mobile. A monster that the module placed in one particular room could be encountered in a hallway as it returns from an errand elsewhere.

Others can be rearranged in advance. I performed a major jigsaw rearrangement of encounters in Tide of Honor, the 5th module of the Jade Regent adventure path. The players were suppose to join the nascent rebellion against the corrupt government led by a false regent. Instead, they decided that since they had the true heir of the Jade Throne with them (this is not a spoiler, this is the theme of the adventure path), they would instead work to put her on the throne without a rebellion. They worried about assassination, so they traveled the country while the heir's heritage was still unknown, becoming popular folk heroes and making alliances with trustworthly local governors. I moved some scenarios in Tide of Honor to other places, so that they could have adventures across the country, dropped the ones that would not adapt, and made up some more. (Amaya of Westcrown: Tide of Honor)

I am doing similar work with Ironfang Invasion. This description contains spoilers.

Trail of the Hunted:
In Trail of the Hunted the Ironfang hobgoblin army invaded the village of Phaendar. The party helped many villagers escape and destroyed the bridge behind them to delay pursuit. A few hobgoblin scouts will risk the swift river to hunt refugees, but setting up a footbridge will take days and a permanent bridge will take weeks. The 2nd part, surviving in the woods, is scheduled on that timeline, such as, "Event 2: Bad Water. After several days to a week,... " and "Event 3: One Stormy Night (CR 4). Just as the fugitives of Phaendar begin to grow comfortable—a week or so into their ordeal—..."

Unfortunately for the module as written, my players are fast. They visited the dwarven lumber camp to warn the dwarves on the 3rd day. The camp is supposed to have been wiped out by the Red Jaw platoon once the footbridge is complete, "Between several days to several weeks." Rather than improvising a living lumber camp, I wiped it out early. In my rewritten events, the Red Jaws are already north of the river; in fact, they were north of the river attacking tiny lumber camps and fishing villages on the day of the Phaendar invasion.

As further examples of their speed, they dealt with Encounter F1 on the night of the invasion, dealt with Bad Water the following morning, scouted out Phaendar on their own initiative, encountered Edran, passed up G2 the giant boar when I presented it early, hunted a velociraptor instead, handled F2 and F3 the 2nd day after the invasion, visited G4 the lumber camp on the 3rd day after the invasion, decamped the refugees to move to place J on the 4th day, but encounted H4 the centaur on the way. The 4th event, The Hemlock Banner, says, "... after a few weeks in the woods, around the time the PCs reach 3rd level." The party reached 3rd level at the end of last week's game session after encountering the centaur (They had extra XP from rescuing 40 villagers instead of just 20). They will reach the Misthome caves, region K and a good hiding place until the permanent bridge is finished, on the 5th day, and The Hemlock Banner is supposed to occur before the caves.

My players are derailing the adventure as written by focus on their mission. Their efficiency is plausible; I used to work on high-performance evelopment teams that had similar efficiency. Thus, I am rearranging the Ironfang army to be more efficient, too.

The Ironfang Invasion example is changing time rather than place, but it is a rearrangement, too. My players don't mind me salvaging encounters that they would have missed due to circumstances. On the other hand, if they deliberately avoided a known encounter, such as the giant boar (daeodan creature 4) in Trail of the Hunted, then they would be disappointed to see it appear in front of them. My players went hunting for easier prey and were happy to find a velocirapter (creature 1) instead. The boar is still in place in case the players change their minds.

The quality of the Paizo modules, written with additional travelogue information, enabled this rearrangement. Their descriptions concentrate on the setting and non-player characters, and leave the plot flexible. Thus, individual encounters can be salvaged and put in front of the party who followed a different plot for their story.


ErichAD wrote:
I highly recommend pretending to be caught off guard from time to time. Impress your players with your improvisation skills by secretly being well prepared and having predicted their next move perfectly.

It's pretty rare, but when this happens it's an amazing feeling.

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